I've begun to write about a few of my sacred personal experiences. I explain my reasons for doing so here.
Time is funny.
Sometimes when I am very quiet, when a memory is very fresh, when I can feel an exhalation that seems to come from somewhere deeper than my lungs, time seems nearly permeable. For just a moment, that crowding certainty of the present grows thin. And it seems that if I could reach my hand out without breaking the fibers of yesterday, today and tomorrow, I could touch all the places I once was, all the people that once were with me. Eagerness always makes my hands unsteady and the filaments always snap before I’ve completed my desperate grasp. Sometimes I try to reach out again, but always the thickness has returned, my fingertips met and bloodied by the rough whole cloth of right-now.
My dad died two years ago today.
I carry the day he died with me. Or maybe it carries me. Sometimes, I can’t tell. February 15th wasn’t just the day I lost my dad. It was the day I had to brutally, finally, exhaustively acknowledge that someday my children will lose me. And so it colors every sunset and interrupts every tantrum and informs every moment I’ve taken for myself. It is the panic behind every body ache and the impetus behind every quick apology. It is the only point of before-this-very-instant time that seems determined to stay within my reach. I can’t seem to get my hands to return it to where it belongs.
It’s all still happening right now.
I am driving to the hospital to see him again - now. I am in the waiting room with my family while the doctors do a biopsy - now. I am picking at a turkey sandwich on a paper plate - now. The nurse has just entered and her face looks worried - now. She says “Your father has had a heart episode” - now. We begin to pace and cry - now. The nurse returns and tells us everything is under control - now. We laugh with relief - now. One more bite of soggy sandwich - now. My mom walks into the room - now. “Is he feeling better?”, I ask - now. “It’s time to say goodbye”, she says - now. We are running down the hall to his room - now. My feet are slamming on the ground and I am wondering if they’ll carry me there fast enough - now. He is on that bed and his eyes are closed and his heart rate is dropping on that black and green screen - now. I am ripping the velcro off from around his hand so I can put mine in it one more time - now. I look at us all losing him alone while we are together - now. I can’t be the only one to put my hand in his, so I move down the bedside - now. I hear someone saying, “This is okay, this is okay” aloud to everyone and no one - now. After a moment, I realize the voice is mine - now. I wrap my hands around his leg and kiss his freckled skin - now. I am a little girl holding on to her daddy’s ankle, begging him not to go - now. I hear my mom whispering that it is alright for him to leave - now. The green numbers on the black screen are lower - now. My mom asks for a moment alone - now. We hug and kiss him and walk out of the room - now.
He is gone - now.
When the paperwork was signed, the nursing staff let me into the room with his body. His animating force fled, all that remained was the image of my father. When I was a kid, he’d rub his whiskers on my cheek - both of us laughing while I pushed him away. Before he died, he’d been too sick to shave. I held his shoulders and rubbed my cheek against his grey bristles one last time. It was an odd and heartbreaking thing, holding the physical frame of a memory.
I was twenty-eight when he died.
In the years since, as I’ve struggled with fortune, family and faith, I’ve missed his voice. I have so many questions. Sometimes I worry I am missing many of the guiding lights he’d already found - that maybe I won’t be wise enough, curious enough, humble enough to find them on my own. I’m terrified I’ll steer by the wrong stars and then veer off the course we both knew I was meant to chart. If he was here, he could have directed me, reassured me, helped me understand how to find my own bearings. He could have helped me know what he knew and then continue on to know what he didn’t.
Sometimes I think I might be adrift.
On the drive home from the hospital, I talked nervously while Riley held my hand. In the midst of my rambling, the hospital called,
“Hello, Megan. So sorry to bother you at this difficult time. We were wondering if you would be interested in donating William Conley’s eyes for research.”
I knew it didn’t really matter. I knew he wasn’t behind them anymore. I knew organ donation was a final good deed done by the dead. But I couldn’t give anyone his eyes.
“No, I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
Those last words had made me lose all the others. In the quiet, Riley tightened his hand around mine and kept driving down the freeway. There’s a place in Utah called The Point of the Mountain - the wind is always blowing there and the cars slow down a bit as they round it and begin their descent into the valley.
We were approaching the point when it happened. A blossoming that began in the center of my mind and expanded into regions I’d never before (or since) been able to acknowledge. For just a moment, I could feel the wonder, awe and relief of my father as the horizons of his understanding expanded in a place and time I cannot yet name.
The blossoming faded as soon as it had warmed me through.
We began our descent into the valley. Our car sped up alongside all the other cars, only instead of going home, we were on our way to tell our little girls that their Papa was dead.
Later, in between the tears and the funeral planning, I tried to explain that bloom of light to Riley. I’ve never really been able to give the experience the words it deserves. And so all I am left with is this:
At that moment I knew, in all my unknowing, that the things that greeted my father when he left this life are enough, and vibrant, and praiseworthy - now.